Goosebumps 41-45

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20 | 21-25 | 26-30 | 31-35 | 36-40

It’s time to continue my retrospective look at R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. This popular horror series was originally published between 1992 and 1997 and ran for sixty-two novels. Since then, it is spawned a number of spin-off series, video games and movies and is still massively popular today. For the purpose of this review, I will be looking at books 41 to 45 only. Oh, and there will be massive spoilers for the novels concerned. You have been warned.

In Bad Hare Day, Tim is obsessed with becoming a magician like his hero Amaz-O but doesn’t have much talent for it. However, when Tim finally gets to go to one of Amaz-O’s shows, he realises that he has a chance to learn from the master. Tim “borrows” the magician’s bag of tricks so that he can study them. However, it’s not long before he realises that magic is real and he has no idea how to stop it…

In Egg Monsters from Mars, Dana loves science and is thrilled when he discovers an egg that he can’t identify. When it hatches into a mysterious creature, Dana realises that he may well have a new species on his hands. However, when he reveals his find to a local scientist, he suddenly finds himself in great danger. Dr Grey wants to have all credit for the discovery and is more than happy to get rid of anyone who would stand in his way…

In The Beast from the East, Ginger and her brothers stumble across a horrible group of monsters while lost in the woods. The creatures are playing a game in which one player becomes the “Beast from the East” and must try to tag others, and they are eager for the kids to join them. Trouble is, whoever is still the Beast at sunset will be eaten and Ginger has no idea what the rules are!

In Say Cheese and Die – Again!, Greg is frustrated that his teacher, Mr Saur, will not believe his story about the cursed camera. He knows that the only way to prove that he is telling the truth is to show him. However, the camera is as dangerous as ever and it’s not long before Greg accidentally manages to take a photo of himself and Shari. Can they find a way to undo its effects before they become permanent?

In Ghost Camp, Harry and Alex are excited to spend summer at Camp Spirit Moon. However, when they get there, they discover that there is something odd about it. The old campers like to play tricks on newcomers, and some of them can be rather scary and mean. Soon, Harry starts to realise that there may be some truth in the campfire stories. The other campers could well be less than alive and seem to have something sinister in store for them…

I’ve been complaining for a while now about how Goosebumps has been growing stale. It must be really difficult to keep a long running series fresh and it’s hard to deny the fact that Stine has proven over the last dozen books that he is not above recycling plots, monsters and twists. While there has been the occasional gem, many of the novels have been weird, frustrating or simply forgettable.

However, I must admit that these five books have caused me to reassess this view. While they aren’t perfect, there is still some originality to be found. Stage magic, aliens and playful monsters fill the first three instalments, which are all themes that Stine has not previously used. While Say Cheese and Die-Again! is another direct sequel to an earlier book, there is a lot of fun to be had in the rest of these stories. Let’s take a little look at each of them in turn.

After a few disappointing instalments, I found Bad Hare Day to be a refreshingly different addition to the series. While it wasn’t really a horror story, it told the tale of the hi-jinks that ensued after a boy stole a magician’s box of magic tricks. The story that followed was very reminiscent of Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak, as Tim quickly discovers that he has bitten off a lot more than he can chew when he accidentally turns his sister into a rabbit.

The story is fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. It is filled with fun magic and a lot of humour, predominately focused on the fact that Tim’s tricks tend to go horribly wrong. My only real issue with this instalment was its ending. While I did think that the twist reveal of Amaz-O’s identity was hilarious, I felt that the last couple of chapters felt very rushed. They also raised a lot of questions, especially as to how permanent Tim’s new life as a rabbit is. Given the nature of Goosebumps books, I doubt that this will ever be resolved.

In terms of characterisation, Bad Hare Day was also acceptable. Tim is a fun character, completely defined by his “dream” to become a magician. He’s passionate and likeable, and I was surprised by how much I actually wanted for him to succeed. His sister Ginny, on the other hand, was an utter brat. This isn’t something that we’ve seen in a Goosebumps book for a while, and wasn’t to the unrealistic extreme of The Cuckoo Clock of Doom. Ginny filled the role of the sibling who always seems to get their own way, yet I did wish that her parents would notice how physically abusive she could be to her older brother.

Yet I’m less sure how I feel about Egg Monsters from Mars, as it really is a bizarre addition to the series. The story starts out well with Dana finding and hatching the mysterious egg, but it’s all downhill from there. It takes a long time for anything to really happen and, when it does, it is for the strangest of reasons.

The actions of the villainous Dr Grey are utterly flimsy and it seemed like a stretch for him to just flip his evil switch and flat-out try to murder a kid. I mean, who is Dana even going to tell about what happened? Once Dr Grey takes the creature from him, he has no evidence. Who would even believe the word of a twelve-year-old raving about Martians against that of an adult scientist?

And then, there was the twist. The story moved at a sluggish pace and ultimately very little happened until its final few chapters. Over this time, the monsters seemingly sacrifice themselves to create a blanket to protect Dana from the cold and defeat Dr Grey. After this, Dana suddenly lays a giant egg. As an adult reader, I felt that this has some really uncomfortable implications. Just what did the egg monsters do to Dana while they were “protecting” him? Some things just don’t bear thinking about.

The one saving grace of this story for me was Dana, who was a wonderfully fleshed out character. You certainly felt the two sides of him at war – the terrified and excitable kid and the budding scientist who was determined to prove himself. Dana’s little sister also played a very minor role in the story, so at least we were spared from suffering another bratty sister this time around!

The Beast from the East is probably the strangest and most surreal Goosebumps book so far, yet surprisingly has also been one of my favourites. While it does not have much by way of plot, the story takes the form of an extended chase in which three kids are forced to find creative ways to trick monsters, often falling foul of breaking unknown “rules” in doing so.

Due to this, the story is very fast-paced, creative and sometimes even a little gross. While I didn’t think it was as scary as some of the earlier books, there is certainly a lot here that will appeal to young readers, ranging from the imaginative landscape to the light humour and strange alien language that the monsters speak.

While The Beast from the East does not have much of a twist, it does the leave the story open-ended and so there is plenty of scope for the story to be continued in a future instalment. The final few pages are darkly entertaining, with Ginger and her brothers finding themselves leaping from the frying pan to the fire as they find themselves entering a new “level” of the game.

In terms of characterisation, The Beast from the East is simply okay. While we don’t get to know Ginger, Nat and Pat as well as we do some other Goosebumps protagonists, they do have quirks that make them all a bit more distinct. For example, Nat likes to climb trees while Pat would rather be playing video games. Although the siblings can get on each other’s nerves, it’s nice to see how they also look out for each other. This made them feel like a realistic family as they clearly did not want each other to get hurt.

And then there was Say Cheese and Die – Again!. While I loved the original Say Cheese and Die novel, this direct sequel is possibly my least favourite Goosebumps book to date. And, given my strong feelings towards the Monster Blood series, that is saying something!

Say Cheese and Die – Again! ignores a lot of things that were set up by the first instalment. Although we see that bullies find the camera at the end of Say Cheese and Die!, this novel reads as though this never happened. Additionally, the characters seem to have forgotten that destroying the photos reverses their effects. This was something that was specifically revealed in the first book, and would certainly resolve all problems within this story, yet Greg decides will not do this as he claims to be unsure of what will happen. Gah!

Yet these issues are just the tip of the iceberg. The camera this time doesn’t just make bad things happen to the characters. It also proves to be able to physically change the appearance of them. The result is that the novel comes across as being alarmingly fatphobic, shaming both Greg for his massive weight gain and Shari for her respective weight loss. This is just horrible to read. It’s not that the novel is scary, it’s just deeply uncomfortable.

And this isn’t even the worst thing. That award goes to just how awful and stupid the characters are. Ranging from Mr Saur – a teacher who is more than happy to fat-shame students in front of the whole class – to Greg who has seemingly learned nothing from the events of Say Cheese and Die!. I mean, Greg managed to indirectly kill a man last time around. Why does he think that taking more photos is a great idea? And why is he so surprised that his teacher won’t believe his story about a cursed camera in the first place? It just makes no sense at all.

While Ghost Camp is certainly better than Say Cheese and Die – Again!, it was also a bit of a disappointment. While it started off well, as Harry and Alex arrive at the very creepy camp, it seemed to struggle to maintain this tone. The final third of the book felt incredibly rushed. While it reminded me a little of Welcome to Camp Nightmare, it just could not recreate the tension of this novel’s final chapters. As it reached the climax, Ghost Camp just seemed to entirely lose its steam.

The twist this time around was also a bit frustrating as it was so easy to see coming. Not only was it rather mean, allowing Alex to be possessed when he certainly did not deserve this, but the novel also made it so blatantly obvious that this would happen. This is certainly worrying, as Stine’s twists are usually rather entertaining. I really hope that this isn’t the start of a downward spiral now that we are forty-five novels into this series…

In terms of characterisation, Ghost Camp was also a bit forgettable. Although we weren’t given the time to get to know any of the campers, Harry and Alex were at least likeable. While Harry didn’t really have anything unique about him, Alex’s singing did at least give him one distinct personality trait. It was also nice that the two brothers seemed to get along pretty well, unlike most other Goosebumps siblings.

So, I think that covers everything. As always, I did find this selection of Goosebumps books to be a bit variable. While Bad Hare Day and The Beast from the East are certainly two books that I would recommend, the others are forgettable at best. Still, I’m in this for the long haul now and kind of excited to find out what the next five books will bring!

All of these books are currently out of print. If you are interested in reading them, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Goosebumps 46-50 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Goosebumps 51-54 | Arkham Reviews
  3. Trackback: Goosebumps 55-58 | Arkham Reviews
  4. Trackback: Goosebumps 59-62 | Arkham Reviews
  5. lifewithlane14
    Mar 19, 2020 @ 14:09:16

    RL Stine was my favorite author when I was in middle and high school. I’m excited about the Fear street movie coming out this year in July. I own every single one of his books. Fear Street and goosebumps

    Reply

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